Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Media | Sports

March 2, 2009

Storming the Web's College-Basketball Corner

The bloggers at Storming the Floor eschew dick jokes for hard-core college-basketball analysis. Plus, other kinds of jokes.

Joseph Ax

It's seemingly harder than ever to point to college sports as an expression of athletic purity. Top programs make little pretense of educating their players; highly touted freshmen arrive on campus with all the hype of an established star; and universities rake in millions of dollars from fat television contracts.

And yet…there's nothing quite like watching a backup player for a mid-major kill himself on every possession, even though he isn't getting paid to play and probably never will. There's nothing like the feeling of exhilaration when a No. 14 seed creeps closer and closer to toppling an elite team in mid-March. And there's nothing like the rivalries, the mascots, and the fans (although Dick Vitale remains as insufferable as ever, of course).

Eric Angevine (left) and Marco Anskis
"For added degree of difficulty, I decided to become a freelance writer right when our economy went in the toilet."—Eric Angevine

Eric Angevine (left) and Marco Anskis

In short, there's nothing quite like college basketball. And to discuss the sport with Marco Anskis and Eric Angevine, the minds behind the blog Storming the Floor, is to be reminded of why you started watching in the first place.

Equal parts humor, analysis, and reporting, the blog may be the best college-basketball site on the Web. The writers preview virtually every televised game, assess the strengths and weaknesses of hundreds of teams, and pass judgment on the legitimacy of every floor-storming after a victory. (Missouri fans storming after a last-second shot beats Kansas? Approved. Oregon fans rushing the court after beating Stanford, when the Cardinal were in ninth place in the Pac-10? Not so much.) And for those who want even more detail on a particular team or conference, the site offers the most extensive bloglist you're likely to find.

The site caters to hardcore fans, although the writing is accessible to anyone with a casual interest in college hoops. The bloggers write about every team from Carolina to Cal-Irvine, and have fun doing it. "I think what it really comes down to is that Eric and I are just college-basketball junkies who are completely obsessed with everything college basketball," says Anskis, who founded the blog in 2007. He and Angevine spoke with Gelf via email recently to talk Carolina hype, the glory of the Palestra, and the economics of blogging for a small but passionate fan base. This interview was conducted by email and edited for length and clarity. You can hear Angevine and other sportswriters read from and talk about their work at Gelf's free Varsity Letters event on Thursday, March 5, in New York's Lower East Side.

Gelf Magazine: Are there any stories in college basketball that you think aren't getting enough play this year?

Eric Angevine: I fall in love with specific teams, but I really don't blame the national media for not covering them. In a way, I'm glad, because that allows me to write about them and stand out from the crowd. For instance, I am in love with the VMI program that beat Kentucky this year. They spend next to nothing on basketball, the players have to shave their heads and sleep in barracks, and they play this amazing, frenetic full-court game that you can't look away from lest you miss something. For most college-basketball fans, their season won't mean a thing unless they win the Big South tourney and make it to the NCAAs, but this is a special year for them even if they don't.
Generally speaking, it's tough to find unsung stories. When Utah State won enough games to attract attention, the national media wrote about them. People are starting to notice that Darrin Horn—who led Western Kentucky to the second round last year and parlayed that into a job at South Carolina—is a hell of a coach at any level. Those are the types of stories that interest me, and they sometimes catch on in the world in general. But I love to find the interesting stories that fell through the cracks when I can.
The problem with writing only about college basketball is that it's really a narrow-focus game for most fans. They like their team and their conference, and that's all they really care about during the season. Our readership tends to start low in November and then pick up steam until there's a frenzy in March. And that's the way people watch this sport.

Marco Anskis: I thought the "Carolina is unstoppable" and "Hansbrough is a shoo-in for player of the year" storylines were getting way too much attention in November, so I'm kind of glad that neither panned out, even if I still believe Carolina will make it to the championship game.
As for an under-the-radar story, how about just how weak the bracket is going to be after the first three seeds? I've heard plenty about the soft bubble this season and how this is the worst year for mid-majors in a decade, but does anyone really trust any of the teams in the middle of the bracket? Right now, you're looking at teams like Florida State, LSU, Cal, and Illinois being placed as high No. 5 seeds. I don't trust a single team from that group to make it to the second weekend. So while it may be a down year for mid-majors, don't be shocked to see a few get hot and sneak into the Sweet 16.

Gelf Magazine: So who's going to make some noise this March? Got any sleepers you're keeping an eye on? Who's underrated or overrated?

Eric Angevine: Here's where something interesting can happen. While the mid-majors in general won't have a lot of depth, a few teams have been good so long they stand a better chance than ever to upset some of these power-conference softies. Butler, Davidson, Siena, and Xavier, as well as that old standby Gonzaga, all have strong, tourney-experienced teams that can play with anyone.
Missouri could be a sleeper. They're not the most talented team around, but they have that furious 40-minutes-of-hell style that Mike Anderson brought in. Damn near every team outside of the top five is overrated right now—teams like Michigan State, Louisville, Duke… they win a lot of games but each of them has been absolutely blown out at least once this season. As far as underrating, I guess I'd say Dayton isn't on most people's radar yet, but they've been atop the A-10. And I'd never count out Bob Huggins at West Virginia; not his team, not his hair, not his wardrobe.

Marco Anskis: Here is where I'm going to disagree with Mr. Angevine. How could a supposed diehard Jayhawks fan pick Mizzou over his own Jayhawks as a tournament sleeper? Don't get me wrong, I love Missouri's defense and ability to score in bunches, but this Jayhawks team—undervalued all season after losing so many players off the championship squad—plays excellent defense, has a solid point guard in Sherron Collins and a reliable post presence in Cole Aldrich. I wouldn't be shocked if the Jayhawks make a run to the Elite Eight, even if their supposed "No. 1 fan" doesn't believe in them.

Eric Angevine: Actually, I'm just drawing the line at labeling my 'Hawks as "sleepers." I think they are currently accurately valued, which makes them unlikely to surprise anyone.

Marco Anskis: Fair enough. Where I do agree with Eric is on West Virginia as a potential sleeper for the Elite Eight. I also really like Villanova (trust me, Eric knows about that one) and Arizona State as teams from the middle of the bracket that could make a run to the Final Four.
As for overrated, I think Davidson is nowhere near the team it was last season without Jason Richards at point, but I think everyone has found that out with Curry's injury and the BracketBuster loss to Butler. I'm also not too high on Utah State or any team currently playing in the SEC. If you're looking for a mid-major Cinderella this season, look at Siena, a team whose 2009 season has almost mirrored that of Davidson in 2008. I also think that Vermont, with rebounding/scoring/dunking machine Marqus Blakely in the middle, could pull an opening-round shocker.

Gelf Magazine: How many games do you watch per week? Would you say you could intelligently discuss almost every D-1 team?

Eric Angevine: I'll be bald-faced honest about this. To be able to discuss every D1 team with some insight is my goal, but I don't think it's my reality yet. I have nothing to tell you about Fordham or Montana unless I research them, and that's going to rely probably too much on stats, because I haven't experienced them directly at all. But it's a growth process for me. When I joined Marco two years ago, I mostly paid attention to the Big 12 because I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas; the ACC because I now live in Charlottesville, Virginia; and the CAA because I studied at Old Dominion. I was always interested in other conferences, but had no motivation to seek them out. Working for STF has expanded my horizons and my knowledge exponentially, but I have lots of room to grow still.
As for TV coverage, I kind of have to pick my spots. I probably watch 10 games a week, but I have a wife, a kid and a dog, so I can't blow them off all the time. Sometimes it's enough to watch a half of one game just to see a certain player or team and get a feel for what's up. There are 300+ teams out there, and most of them never get a sniff of TV coverage. I'm sort of glad the NCAA put a moratorium on programs moving up to D1 for a while.
I also try to get out to games, but that's even more limited than TV watching. Fortunately, there are enough schools from enough conferences in my area that I can check out a different set of home teams and opponents every season, which is a big help.

Marco Anskis: I'm with Eric: You've got to pick your spots. I feel that I've watched several teams over and over—I've seen Oklahoma so many times that I think I could call their plays—while only catching a few big-name teams a handful of times. With a job and school, the DVR really comes in handy.
And yeah, it's not realistic to know every detail on every team, but there are so many tools out there today like Kenpom and the Basketball State that it only take a few minutes to get an idea about how a mid-major team like Robert Morris runs its offense, where the majority of the points come from, and the major weaknesses. God bless stat-heads.

Gelf Magazine: How did this blog get started? What did you guys do before this?

Eric Angevine: Marco and I knew of one another because we had provided some content for Awful Announcing when it was in its first year. We had formed a sort of cabal of bloggers we called the Channel Four News Team, in homage to Ron Burgundy. Marco and I had both been doing general sports blogs—his was Just Call Me Juice, and mine was called The Extrapolater—and we had both found it to be too generic. Marco started talking about focusing on college hoops, which sounded great. He founded Storming the Floor just before the '07-'08 season. He wanted me to join him, which was very flattering, so I chucked my old blog and poured everything into this instead.
Work-wise, I spent a lot of years not being a writer for some reason. I worked in public radio, managed a bookstore, and researched pension-plan investments for Standard & Poor's. Thanks in part to the notoriety gained from this blog, I quit my job and started writing for various outlets as a freelancer in August of '08. I guess I'm a late bloomer—it took me a long time to find my voice and my niche in writing. And then, for added degree of difficulty, I decided to do it right when our economy went in the toilet.

Marco Anskis: The start of STF and our partnership is really the case of perfect timing. I started my blogging career with the general sports blog Just Call Me Juice, while I was just getting out of college. JCMJ was a little, run-of-the-mill sports blog that focused on dick jokes and terrible sports jerseys (although the jersey idea was interesting enough that ESPN would "borrow" the idea about a month after it was featured on Deadspin). Writing JCMJ was a blast, but it got pretty stale after a few months.
I had been kicking around the idea of starting a college-hoops blog for a long time and in hindsight, I'm glad that I didn't make STF my first blog. College basketball had always been my first love, and there were zero quality college basketball blogs in the blogosphere, so I knew that there was a niche that needed to be filled. The perfect time came in the summer of 2007. I just finished up a year-long internship in Minor League Baseball and wasn't starting grad school for another three months. So, with a few months off, I did some research, created an overall idea of what I wanted the site to look like and what its mission would be and launched STF in September of 2007.
Two things happened almost immediately: 1) I realized that it wasn't much fun to run the thing by myself and 2) With a graduate externship, I wasn't going to have nearly the amount of free time that I expected.
That is when Eric came into the picture. As he said, we knew each other from Awful Announcing and I had always been a huge fan of his writing during the NCAA Tournament. He knew his stuff and I thought his writing style would work well with what I had in mind for STF. So on a whim one day, I decided to call him on the phone (that's unheard of for bloggers) and asked if he wanted to help me in my new college-basketball endeavor. He said yes almost immediately and even agreed to drop his own general sports blog, two things that still surprise me to this day.

Gelf Magazine: What would you say is your mission? How would you describe your tone and your style of writing? (You've written for Deadspin, but your blog is more in-depth analysis than dick jokes.)

Eric Angevine: Marco has always had a very clear vision of what he wants the site to be, and that's a big part of what allowed me to buy into it so heavily. When we talked on the phone before our first season, he said something that has stuck with me: "I want this site to be about three things: information, analysis, and humor." I look at each article I write to make sure all three of those things are mixed into the batter. Even when readers disagree with our take on the big picture, they generally get a good laugh out of the way it's presented.
We also like to focus on everything about the sport. We'll happily do a post about a player with a magnificent beard, or the fact that the Big West and Summit League have the best mascots, and then follow it up with a serious dissection of a team's win-loss record. We believe there's no reason not to have it all. We have people who send us photo essays, do conference reports, rant emotionally about their team—just about anything that fans do, we run it on the page.
Dick jokes don't really come our way too often. However, when USC's Leonard Washington redefined the offensive foul by jacking up Blake Griffin's privates, we had no choice. It was news.
During Will Leitch's last few months at Deadspin, we served as the College Basketball closers, and sometimes felt a little out of place. It helped when we realized that all we needed to do was give the commentariat the raw materials and let them make the jokes.

Marco Anskis: We do have a tone and style that are different than 98% of other sports blogs, and I think it's better that way. I'm sure that traffic would increase 400% with a few more pictures of cheerleaders' tits, but I kind of like that STF stands out from the crowd. The site has developed a core audience of passionate college-hoops fans with this style, and I think the people who get the style love it.
Part of our style comes from the initial planning and part of it comes from our personalities. I told Eric from the very beginning that I wanted STF to be the site that the serious college-hoops fan could go to, learn something, and have a good laugh at the same time. I don't think it's beneath us to toss in a dick joke or a picture of a cheerleader sans underwear, but only when it fits the story. Trust me, there are plenty of other blogs willing to show blog princess Erin Andrews's cleavage. I don't think she needs us to gain her any more exposure.
I think what it really comes down to is that Eric and I are just college-basketball junkies who are completely obsessed with everything college basketball, which is reflected in the material on the site. We are a completely independent website; we don't need X number of page views to get paid, so why do something that wouldn't be natural to us?
That, and Eric is a giant dick who deletes all of the drunk-sorority-girl pictures I try to sneak into the morning posts.

Eric Angevine: Hey, what can I say. I don't like to share. They're all safely stored under "Annual Revenue Projections" in my laptop.

Gelf Magazine: Do you spend most of your time reading mainstream publications, or do you stick to blogs for the most part?

Eric Angevine: We have a sidebar on the blog that we call "tools of the trade." That kind of reveals part of the reading list. For stats and factual information, I visit ESPN.com's college-basketball page daily. I think they get tarred with the same brush as the TV network, but they really provide a great overview of the game, with stats, schedules, recaps, and some good columnist voices. We miss the hell out of Kyle Whelliston, though. In fact, two of my other must-visit sites on a daily basis are Kyle's babies: Basketball State for stats, and The Mid-Majority for analysis and narrative. For a little local flavor, I read Dan Steinberg's Sports Bog and Michael Litos's Regarding the Underdog. I tend not to read other national college-basketball blogs because I want to deliver my own unique take, and because I don't have time. I often go to our sidebar and check out the team-specific blogs when I feel like I need a diehard fan's perspective on a team I want to write about. Fan blogs are great.

Marco Anskis: I think it's about a 50-50 split. In terms of mainstream publications, Andy Katz does an excellent daily college-hoops blog that kind of gives an in-depth national overview. I love Luke Winn's work at SI (and not just because he'll be speaking with us) and think that he has a unique style where he can talk to the serious college-hoops fans (i.e. efficiency rating) while still drawing in the mass audience, something we have been trying to emulate at STF. I also check out Joe Lunardi's Bracketology daily, in part because it's the most reliable bracket-predicting service available, and partly because it was a chance encounter with Lunardi during my senior year in college that gave me the idea to start writing about the game I love so much.

Gelf Magazine: Do either of you expect a day to come soon where you can rely on the blog alone for income?

Eric Angevine: I don't think we ever expect to make real money from this. We got some text ads last year before the economy bottomed out, but we shared that small amount with our contributors. What could happen, however, is some sort of ancillary revenue that grows out of what we do. Showcasing my knowledge and passion through the website helped me get in good with ESPN: the Magazine's website when they launched last year, so I can foresee a future in which other writing gigs pay the bills and allow me to spend an hour or so writing for myself on STF.

Marco Anskis: Yeah, I don't think that either of us really entered this endeavor thinking, "Damn, we are going to strike it rich with this blog!" I think I was much more naive than Eric in the beginning. I thought that there was a definite possibility that if we could find a major revenue backer, it was realistic to blog full time. But after a pretty successful first year in which none of that happened, I somewhat accepted the fact that STF was going to have to be a pretty sweet side job. And when I started to view it that way, the whole process actually became much less stressful and much more enjoyable.

Gelf Magazine: Do you ever feel like you're missing something by not being "beat" writers, in the sense of having access to the locker room, interviewing players and coaches, etc.? That's the knock you'll hear on occasion from mainstream reporters regarding blogs, although you guys are really closer to columnists than reporters in terms of the writing you're doing.

Eric Angevine: I think beat writers serve a vital function, for sure. They become experts on their local teams, and that's why we do Q&A sessions with them from time to time. However, the whole "no cheering in the press box" jazz has never sat well with me. A lot of these guys sit on press row, in this incredibly privileged position, and never crack a smile. I don't think blogs should replace real reporting, because we rely on that hard-won information beat guys dig up. But there's no reason why we can't continue to ply this middle ground between reporting and entertaining—nobody's going to mistake us for Woodward & Bernstein, but we do like to go out and meet coaches and get the direct experience of sitting in the stands without having to pretend to be neutral.

Marco Anskis: Always stealing my thunder, Eric. Yeah, I've always viewed our blog as sort of a middle ground between real reporting and entertainment. It's very rare that we try and chase a breaking story—partially because we don't have the time with full-time jobs and particularly because we wouldn't really excel at it. I don't think two guys sitting on their futons are going to beat Andy Katz to a story on Arizona's next head coach. We really respect what the beat guys do on a daily basis, evident in the fact that our Q&A series is filled with some of our favorite national writers (well, the ones that answer their emails). We've got our niche and I think we co-exist quite peacefully with the mainstream media.

Gelf Magazine: Do you guys watch any NBA at all, perhaps in order to follow players you've become fans of?

Eric Angevine: I grew up near Kansas City, and the Kings left when I was a teenager (after sucking anyway), so I didn't have any NBA connection to really grasp. That period of time when two-third of the draft was full of high schoolers and overseas players killed whatever link I had, because I had kind of become interested in watching three- and four-year college guys try out the pros. Besides, I like all of the extra stuff that goes into college sports—the fight songs and rivalries. Mascots and cheerleaders. With 300-plus teams, there's so many different ways for a team to stand out, whereas NBA teams feel like divisions of one big corporation. Because they are.

Marco Anskis: To show you how little we care, we actually paid someone—with some spare change we found in a couch—to discuss the NBA Draft on STF.

Joseph Ax

Joseph Ax is a reporter for Reuters in New York.







Post a comment

Comment Rules

The following HTML is allowed in comments:
Bold: <b>Text</b>
Italic: <i>Text</i>
Link:
<a href="URL">Text</a>

Comments

- Sports
- posted on Mar 02, 09
dino anskis

great site...keep up the good work...p.s...dont forget about the 400lb ant....


Article by Joseph Ax

Joseph Ax is a reporter for Reuters in New York.

Learn more about this author






Newsletter

Hate to miss out? Enter your email for occasional Gelf news flashes.

Merch

Gelf t-shirt

The picture is on the front of the shirt, the words are on the back. You can be in between.